Vladimir Putin Doesn’t Understand the Limits of Donald Trump’s Power

There are still many in Russia who take pleasure in watching the White House consumed by infighting and stumbling from one setback to another, most recently the failure to push through health care reform and the rapid hiring and firing of foul-mouthed communications director Anthony Scaramucci. But the more common feeling around the Kremlin these days might seem familiar to many Republicans. After observing Trump in office for more than six months, there is a mix of disappointment and foreboding.

President Vladimir Putin seems particularly out of sorts. By now he has realized that betting on Trump represents a mistake he has made before with Western leaders, and his decision on Sunday to expel hundreds of diplomats and other personnel from the U.S. embassy in Moscow shows that he’s ready to cut his losses. “There was nothing more to wait for,” his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in explaining the decision on Monday. “It was all pretty obvious.”

And Putin should have known better. His closest alliances with the West have all gone the same way. Whether it was Jacques Chirac in France, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy or Gerhard Schroeder in Germany, each was built on a personal rapport with an incoming head of state, always another man, usually also a blowhard. Each collapsed when that leader was confronted by the limitations of democracy: term limits, a free press, an independent legislature, an unhappy electorate, or any of the other checks and balances built into their constitutions. But with each new attempt at a friendship with the West, Putin seemed to hope that his counterparts could override these curbs on their authority the same way Putin has done in Russia.

They have always let him down, though none quite as spectacularly as President Trump. The U.S. Congress sent Trump a veto-proof bill on July 27 imposing new sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential elections last year, not even a month after the two Presidents met for the first time during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. To many in Moscow, the legislation proved Trump to be a feckless leader, unable to make good on his earnest promises to “get along” with Russia. “Since Trump cannot handle his own lawmakers, it means he is weak,” the Russian political analyst Alexei Makarkin wrote in an analysis of the sanctions bill.

But the point Makarkin missed was the one that Putin also seems incapable of getting his head around: that members of the U.S….

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